Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

Friday, November 28, 2008

I wrote this without revision...so take it for what it's worth

Well, another American holdiay has come and gone. In the few days before Thanksgiving I did my best to explain the concept of the holiday to my host family and a few various community members with whom I have frequent cause for interaction. But, it was quickly made apparent to me that unless you are an American, or have the chance to see the holiday as it is celebrated with a lot of Americans around, it is a very tough holiday to understand. To us (that is, Americans) it seems simple. Sure, it's a day to give thanks. Easy enough, right? But for some reason or another the holiday doesn't translate very well.
"So, it was a bunch of really dirty people that had no food?"
"And then the Native Americans gave them food?"
"And then they killed the Native Americans?"
"No, they ate dinner with them."
"And now it's a holiday?
"To say thank you."
"Do the Native Americans still give you food?"
"No, we killed them?"
"After you ate dinner with them?"
"No, well, yes."
At this point in the conversation every single Armenian, without exception, beat their hand against their mouth while making a whooping war cry reminiscent of some movie they had seen.

So, rather than allow the conversation to repeat itself for my students, I did my best in the English clubs I run to explain the Tanksgiving Story via hand drawn comic strip on the chalkboard. But, that wasn't too successful, probably because I was relying heavily on stick figures as means for communications, and contrary to popular belief, stick figures are not ideal for conveying complex emotions. I don't know. I guess some things were just meant to be mysteries. But, Thanksgiving evening my grandpa did bust out the homemade vodka to celebrate. He didn't really grasp the full concept, but he understood that it was important to me. I swear, my grandpa is the man.

On a slightly different note...

Ever since I moved to my village, I've heard rumors whispered around the streets for some mythical German that supposedly lives in the village. And having lived in Germany, I thought, "Well, wouldn't it be dandy if I could meet this person. Maybe sit down and have a nice little conversation about the West." But, my efforts to locate this person up until now have been fruitless. Everytime I ask people directly, they just look at me like I'm an idiot. (Sidenote, that is usually the look I get from them anyways.) So, for the past few weeks, I've abandoned my quest to locate this fellow foreigner within the village...until two weeks ago.

There I was, walking home from work, and what should I hear, but the frightened sound of a small child screaming for his mother about the German. So, my ears perked up and my eyes did a quick swivel to finally put a face to this person. But, alas, I am the only one on the street. And, as I walked past the child, who was now clinging to his mother's dress in fear, I hear the kid say, "Does it speak Armenian?" to which the mother replied, "No, it speaks German." to which I replied, "Nice weather we have today." in Armenian...ah to be German. Nothing makes sense anymore. I advise to just give in to lunacy.

I wrote this without revision...so take it for what it's worth

Well, another American holdiay has come and gone. In the few days before Thanksgiving I did my best to explain the concept of the holiday to my host family and a few various community members with whom I have frequent cause for interaction. But, it was quickly made apparent to me that unless you are an American, or have the chance to see the holiday as it is celebrated with a lot of Americans around, it is a very tough holiday to understand. To us (that is, Americans) it seems simple. Sure, it's a day to give thanks. Easy enough, right? But for some reason or another the holiday doesn't translate very well.
"So, it was a bunch of really dirty people that had no food?"
"And then the Native Americans gave them food?"
"And then they killed the Native Americans?"
"No, they ate dinner with them."
"And now it's a holiday?
"To say thank you."
"Do the Native Americans still give you food?"
"No, we killed them?"
"After you ate dinner with them?"
"No, well, yes."
At this point in the conversation every single Armenian, without exception, beat their hand against their mouth while making a whooping war cry reminiscent of some movie they had seen.

So, rather than allow the conversation to repeat itself for my students, I did my best in the English clubs I run to explain the Tanksgiving Story via hand drawn comic strip on the chalkboard. But, that wasn't too successful, probably because I was relying heavily on stick figures as means for communications, and contrary to popular belief, stick figures are not ideal for conveying complex emotions. I don't know. I guess some things were just meant to be mysteries. But, Thanksgiving evening my grandpa did bust out the homemade vodka to celebrate. He didn't really grasp the full concept, but he understood that it was important to me. I swear, my grandpa is the man.

On a slightly different note...

Ever since I moved to my village, I've heard rumors whispered around the streets for some mythical German that supposedly lives in the village. And having lived in Germany, I thought, "Well, wouldn't it be dandy if I could meet this person. Maybe sit down and have a nice little conversation about the West." But, my efforts to locate this person up until now have been fruitless. Everytime I ask people directly, they just look at me like I'm an idiot. (Sidenote, that is usually the look I get from them anyways.) So, for the past few weeks, I've abandoned my quest to locate this fellow foreigner within the village...until two weeks ago.

There I was, walking home from work, and what should I hear, but the frightened sound of a small child screaming for his mother about the German. So, my ears perked up and my eyes did a quick swivel to finally put a face to this person. But, alas, I am the only one on the street. And, as I walked past the child, who was now clinging to his mother's dress in fear, I hear the kid say, "Does it speak Armenian?" to which the mother replied, "No, it speaks German." to which I replied, "Nice weather we have today." in Armenian...ah to be German. Nothing makes sense anymore. I advise to just give in to lunacy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Trick or Treat Obamarama

It is no secret that Halloween is possibly my favorite holiday, and having been absent from the consumer driven markets and media of America for some time now, it sneaked up on me quite quietly. In fact, it was not until a few days before the actual holiday that I realized that it was almost Halloween. However, when I finally awoke from my stupor of celebratory neglect, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity for my students in Armenia to learn a little bit about American culture.

The federal government here has banned any discussion (or mention) of Halloween within the confines of any school. According to them, Halloween is a holiday invented by the Americans as a day that pays tribute to the worship of Satan. I will not address the numerous points upon which this statement is incorrect. If I were to do so, my peace of mind would be permanently dislodged from its state of peace. So, instead of trying to take on an unfounded ideology within the confines of its limitations, I chose a different route. Unfortunately for the powers that be that design curriculum, their jurisdiction falls well short of my path. I am not paid. While this does provide many undesirable obstacles in everyday life, in this instance, it is a blessing. Because I am not paid, they have no power over what I do, so long as it does not interfere with the learning that goes on within the confines of school. Now, as many of you know, I have an English club once a week, outside of school hours. This club is my opportunity to work with children without fear of any interference. So, being the “Satan lover” that many officials would want you to believe that I am, naturally, this jumped out at me as the perfect time to talk about Halloween.

In my English clubs, we did horrific things like talk about trick-or-treating, and read a story about two little pumpkins who had trouble deciding on a costume (yeah, I penned that one myself…hello Caldecott award). It was terrible. But that’s not even the worst part. After club, I sent the kids home so that they could eat dinner and tell their parents about what a crazy American I am. And then, we reconvened in order to carve, get this, Jack-o-lanterns. It’s official, I am the most immoral person in the world because I have taught children about a holiday that involves carving crazy faces into oversized squash. What’s even worse is, I’m pretty sure that the children all had fun. OH NO!!!!!! Trick-or-treat.

Now for a housing update.

I’ve spent the past few days in contract negotiation for my apartment. These things have proved a bit more difficult than I had anticipated. Fortunately, I’m able to follow most of what goes on during the discussion. Currently, we are trying to work out the water situation. I’ll spell it out for you in brief. Right now, a water situation doesn’t exist. I want that to change (a.k.a. I want to not have to haul water from the well to my apartment on the 3rd floor, bucket by bucket). Negotiations on this subject seemed to be productive, but only time will tell if they work out. If any of you have ever moved in your life, you know how stressful and trying these things can be. Now picture that same situation in a language and culture you barely understand. But, as afore mentioned, things seem to be working so far. But, I’ll only be comfortable after the contract has been signed, changes enacted, and residence acquired. I was able to talk to the neighbors in the new apartment building, and they are really excited to donate furniture. This is awesome, because right now, the furniture in the apartment has an enumerative value of precisely zero. (Please note that this also includes any type of counter surface for food preparation.) I’m hopeful.

My host family has been remarkable throughout this whole experience. I had been dreading the day of conversation on this topic. But, eventually, I just bit the stick and decided to have the talk with them. They were visibly disappointed that I have decided to move, but I am convinced that it will be best for both parties if I am no longer in their way within the confines of the home. However, they have repeatedly told me that they expect me to come over and hang out, if for nothing else other than to talk with people. For this I am incredibly grateful. I think that things are going to work out.

In other news, the asinine president campaigns have come to an end, and we have a brand new president elect. I would say that that’s good, but unfortunately I have a sneaky suspicion that regardless of who was elected (McCain, Obama, Joe the plumber, you name it), their presidential tenure is doomed by the state in which they receive it. Unfortunately, the severity of the problems that face our country are too severe to change over night, and possibly even within four years, and Americans have a tendency to need an immediate response because our attention spans are so brief. Does anyone actually still play with Tickle Me Elmo or the Cabbage Patch Kids?

The reaction here to the election is fairly positive. The majority of the population seems to support Obama. The thing that gets me, is that now anytime they see a black politician or news reporter on television, they insist that the individual is related to Obama…

My reaction? The people called for change, and voted for change. But, unfortunately the stray dogs that roam the streets are still homeless. They are still kicked. They are still hungry. They are still cold and dying in the winters. And, odds are, that after Obama’s presidential tenure expires, they will still have the same problems.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I’ve Decided That Meat Over an Open Fire is the Best Meat

So here I am, sitting in my room, messing around on my ukulele when I come up with this catchy little blues hook.  So, I push it around a little bit, and start to hum a melody line as I develop a chord progression.  And after a while, the humming gives way to words, and wouldn’t you know it, now I’m addicted to writing blues songs on my ukulele.  Now, I know what you all must be thinking.  “Scott, you are a skinny white boy, playing an ukulele.  You expect me to believe that anything bluesy can come of that?  Last I checked, if you wanted to sing the blues you needed to be a big burly guy with a smoky voice and a steel guitar.  And, if the guitar isn’t steel, there at least needs to be a lit cigarette stuck in the strings up by the tuning pegs.”  Well, my only response is that, yeah, you’re probably right.  But hey, there’s got to be a first for everything, no?  The way I see it, I’m living in a place that insists on calling this thing a small guitar, and I’m not playing it for anyone anyways, so who’s to say I can’t play the blues on it?  Are the lyrics lame?  Probably.  But honestly, unless you’re B.B. King or Jimi Hendrix, what blues lyrics aren’t lame?  If nothing else, it passes the time and usually makes me laugh…at myself, which is probably for the best.


And honestly, learning ways to pass the time seems to be the best thing that I can be doing at this moment.  As I am still fairly new to country, I still have much to learn, and am reminded of that with each passing day.  One thing that has been on my mind as of late (and perhaps you’ve heard my grumblings about this already) is the threat of winter as it swiftly makes itself known.  As of yet, all I know about the winter is what I have been told, so my knowledge is, at best, second hand.  So, I am left to imagine what my life during winter will be like.  I’ve heard horror stories of waking up in the middle of the night with your sleeping bag frozen around you.  Not having anything to eat but potatoes for months on end.  Being holed up in an apartment with nothing but a bottle of vodka and loneliness to keep you warm.  Now, I’m willing to bet that some of these things are exaggerations, but I’m also willing to bet that they aren’t wild exaggerations. 


Winter comes at a time when I am allowed to move out onto my own, no longer under the care of a host family, which would be a first for me in Armenia.  This, of course, offers me a new sense of freedom and independence.  But, it also offers a host of obstacles.  How will I heat wherever I end up living?  Where will I get food? (Remember, grocery stores don’t exactly exist here, and I have not been pickling.)  How will I avoid becoming that volunteer that keeps himself warm with a bottle of vodka and a single light bulb suspended from a wire dangling from the ceiling?  In the winter, because heating does not exist here, the schools shut down.  Apparently, 0 degrees at home is warmer than 0 degrees at school…So, if I’m living on my own, I will now be battling boredom as well.  I know, things just keep getting better, right?  Needless to say, the development of hobbies is a must…cue ukulele and blues.


Now, some of these problems can be avoided if I decide to stay with my host family through the winter.  It’s weird.  For my service in Armenia thus far, I have always been of the mindset that I would get my own apartment as soon as possible.  But, as that day approaches (December 15), I find myself unintentionally leaning towards staying with my host family.  Maybe it’s just doing things like cutting my own hair and having them laugh at me, but then asking me to cut theirs too.  Or sitting on the new couch (which they bought with the money from a cow slaughter) reading a book while my uncle’s three year old son holds my elbow like it were my hand and we were crossing the street.  Or just having a plate of potatoes dripping with oil waiting for me when I get home from work, when I wake up, when I don’t wake up, or when I otherwise turn around, breathe, etc. (yeah, there really are a lot of potatoes here).  Or maybe, I just can’t fight that primordial instinct that humans really are pack animals, and we stick with the pack.  I mean, it’s just what we do…unless you’re weird…which I am.


But, come December, my host dad moves back home because it’s too cold for him to work until spring.  And, mom is due to have a baby pretty soon.  (On that note, I’m not exactly sure where people go to have babies around my village.  And, I don’t know anything about midwifery [midhusbandry?].  In fact, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night scared to death that it’s going to be time for the thing to fall out and I’m going to be the only one around.  So, I know that a few of you reading this are nurses.  Any words of advice are more than welcome.  I’ll tell you what I know.  There’s something about breathing.  The thing needs to have a cord cut.  Odds are the mother will probably hate me just because I’m standing near her.  And I think I saw a doctor slap the baby once in a movie.  But that’s it.  Seriously, what do I do?)  Now, as the apartment stands, with mom, boy, grandma, grandpa, and me, we are at full capacity.  Add two, and that makes for one awkward feeling.  “Hey guys, don’t mind me.  I’m just going to hang out and take up room that you could be using to be comfortable.”


What do I do?  Move out and risk becoming fond of a hermitage to the point of becoming an alcoholic, growing a nasty beard, and writing a manifesto?  Or, stay in the pack, but constantly feel emotions of guilt?


[At this point the topic changes without any attempt at segue.]


One of the things I’ve found myself thinking about often is me as a little boy.  I wonder what I would have thought of myself, if I had had the ability to see me now, then.  I remember back in the day when I just wanted to be the weatherman, then the garbage man, then back to the weather, then on to sillier things like writing.  Never, really ever, did I imagine that I would be where I am, or dealing with the things I’m dealing with now. I just finished reading this book, and I think it relates to my own situation quite nicely.  It’s non-fiction, but that doesn’t mean that metaphor cannot be read into it.  It’s all about this guy who has this grand idea to walk the Appalachian Trail, and so, without much hesitation (you know, aside from waiting for winter to pass), he sets out to do just that, starting down in Georgia, with every intention of hiking all the way through to Maine.  Needless to say, he, like 90% of the other hikers that start out with intentions of completion, did not end up hiking the entire trail.  But, that’s not to say he didn’t give it a good try.  Anyways, there’s a quote that I really like from it:


“All I know is that from time to time I end up a long way from where I want to be.  But it makes life interesting, you know.”

--A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Friday, October 10, 2008

Armenian Nights

As many of you know, nightlife is not really something that I get on a regular basis. Really, unless I’m in Yerevan, there isn’t much of what we would call in the states a “nightlife”. But, that’s not to say that there aren’t exciting things that happen at night. So, I’ve decided to sketch out a few nocturnal events that have happened recently. I’ll warn you, this writing is sloppy and lazy, but entertaining none the less.

Wolves! In a daring effort to reclaim the land for nature’s original tenants, a pack of wolves deftly sneaked into the city of Gyumri under the cover of night’s darkness. The citizens of the city awoke to the terrified sounds of cattle being slaughtered and devoured by the hundreds. When morning dawned, a total of 300 head of cattle had had the likes of life removed from their bones, courtesy of countless encounters with the vengeful jaws of relentless wolves, who incidentally turned out to be fairly efficient at what they do. Now, I do not live in Gyumri, but, I don’t live too far away either, and I’m pretty sure we share the same hills, so this news story was topping the headlines of the local news in my town, and I’m fairly sure that this is the first time an urban cow has topped the news since the Chicago fire. So that’s exciting.

This is a true story, and took place in another volunteer’s host family.

So there’s this cow, right? And this family has cared for this cow pretty well, right? Every day the cow is up with the rooster and released from his holding pen to join the other cows just like it as they mindlessly climb up the mountain to graze under an Armenian sun. And usually, they just walk the cattle trails chewing grass as they go. And if they are unlucky enough to be a wanderer, or stupid enough to linger near the dogs, they get a not-so-friendly nip on the ankles to remind them where they belong, both on the terrain and in the hierarchy of intelligence. But this cow, holy cow, this cow was not cut out for humdrummery. This cow was ambitious. What’s more, is that this cow had the amazing subtlety to be able to carry out his ambitions undetected.

Maybe it was the chickens all cooped up adjacent to his pen at night, telling old hens’ tales of days when they were a free-range creature, talking about a mythical potato patch high up in the mountain passes. Or maybe it was just the smell of subterranean spud on the morning breeze. We will never quite know how this noble bovine brain came across the knowledge of a potato patch in the vicinity of the herd. But somehow, he did. And that’s all that’s important. So, when the other cows were mindless chewing the cud that their first stomach was too lazy to digest, and the dogs were all busy showing off for the one human superintendent who would never like them, this cow moseyed on over a few gentle rises in search of a destiny never known by any cow.

The herd moved on, ignorant of his absence, so ignorant, in fact, that none were aware of this departure until the cow didn’t show up at home that night. So, the family decided to wait until morning before sounding any sort of alarm. Maybe the cow was just loafing. But, by the time rooster o’clock rolled around, there was still no cow. So now, the family decides to take to send out a search party. They searched all over, in the churchyard, in the streets, down by the water, anywhere a cow might be. But, alas, no cow was to be found carousing about within the city limits. So, a brief meeting took place, and the family decided to take to the hills. And there, low and behold, was their cow, with a happy low and a content cow grin, laying in the grass stuffed to an extant that told his body that it was better off laying on the ground.

So there was this cow, right? And it had eaten so many potatoes that it couldn’t walk back down the mountain for the evening. In fact, it had eaten so many potatoes that it couldn’t even be coerced into moving with the help and agitation of its family. In essence, this cow had just pulled a Roger Maris. He had broken the single season record for potatoes eaten by one cow. A record formerly held by one of the greatest cow legends in the history of the game. A record no one ever thought to be breakable. So there was this cow, right? And there were these people, determined to not abandon their cow, right? This cow had been a major investment for them, right? So now there’s this problem, right? How do we get the cow down the mountain? (Note to the squeamish: skip ahead to the next story, this ending is not for you.) So there was this axe, right? Then there were a lot of cow pieces, right? Because everyone knows it’s easier to carry small pieces down a mountain is easier than carrying one big, cumbersome piece, right? No other possible solution. Now there is a lot of cow soup. Talk about being put out to pasture…

Necessary vocabulary for this reading:
Counterpart- work associate to whom I am assigned my two-year partnership
Cowboy- what my host uncle calls me because I have a tendency to whistle softly while I think
Dog- a viscous beast that is not to be loved, but kicked, disdained, and feared to the point that many towns have a season to hunt them within city limits, much like deer (assuming deer were viscous)
Tahteek- Armenian word for grandmother (cultural note, usually come with a complimentary moustache)
jan- an ending affixed to names that means sweety

The other night I went over to my counterpart’s house to visit and work on lesson plans for the upcoming week’s lessons. So, we worked, chatted, and coffeed until about 9:30 in the p.m., at which point I decided it was high time for this cowboy to hit the road. However, the sun has begun its annual trend of laziness, and 9:30 is no longer a time deemed worthy of extreme solar luminance. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say it was dark outside, pitch dark. But, being the forward thinker that I am, in anticipation of the possibility that this meeting was not just going to be a business call, but rather a forced social call that had the potential to last for hours (which it did), before I left my room I stashed a dinky little flashlight in my bag to help light my way home. So, when my counterpart asked me if I wanted her to call my home to send someone to get me since it was so dark, proud of my foresight, I proceeded to pull out my flashlight and declare that I think that somehow I’ll be able to make it home all right. I was then promptly warned to beware of the dogs on the street at night, to which I replied, “It’s ok, I’m an American.”

Off I went, into the night, proud that maybe someone finally understood that I did not come with a warning label advising constant supervision. And oh, how glorious the night was. The beautiful thing about living in a village is that there are no lights. So, when I got to a point on the path where the footing was good enough to not need a light, I turned my light off and turned my eyes upward. Unreal. I tell you what, boy, if I had a dollar for every star I saw, I could bail out Wall Street, and maybe still have enough to independently finance Michael Moore to invent a ludicrous documentary about the causes for its demise. (It just felt like a good place for a jab at Michael Moore. I don’t actually know if this is a project he’s working on, but it seems like the kind of thing he gets uppity about.)

So there I was, taking my time, enjoying the splendor of the skies, taking in a quiet moment that I so desperately needed, when, out of nowhere, a tahteek pops out from behind a rock. “Oooh Scott-jan!” (pronounced skote-jahn) HOLY HELL BATMAN! What’s a tahteek doing out at this hour? More importantly, why are there tahteeks hiding in the rocks? Wait, is this my tahteek? Yes, it is. “Uh, Zeena (tahteek’s name) what are you doing walking around at night?” “Oooh Scott-jan, there’s a dog right there!” At this point, I’ve finally caught my breath from the tahteek ambush, and have turned my light on, expecting to see a rabid carnivore, and ready to reenact an old yeller scene. But, as I should have known, it was nothing more than a 3 month old pup. Someday these unnecessary fears of animals will abate (must I remind you all of Snake Mountain). But, for now, these fears generate grand delusions, and tahteek made sure I was safe. Good old tahteek. She picked up a few rocks and chucked them at the dog, which didn’t move, because the rocks fell well short of their mark. So, Zeena grabbed my shoulders and whisked me away to the safety of our apartment. While being whisked, I asked her, once more, what she was doing walking around at night, and she told me that my counterpart had called her when I left her house, and that it had been so long (reality check: five minutes) that they thought for sure I had fallen and broken my leg. Ahh, to be a five again. One of these days it will be understood by all here that I am an adult.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Public Shame=Productivity

Well, I seem to have finally kicked this nasty habit of taking transatlantic flights, and can once again call myself a resident of Armenia. My trip back to the states had its pluses and minuses. On the one hand I got to see my family and several good friends, eat some good food, and recharge my battery. But, obviously the necessity for the trip was not a happy one, and forcing myself to readjust to an American way of life was exponentially harder than I could have ever anticipated. But, I’m back in action in Armenia, which is good news for you, the reader, because it means that there are new and exciting things to catch up on…or be indifferent about. You choose.

My return trip to Armenia via five different airports was fairly uneventful until I reached my final destination of Yerevan. It always seems that the worst parts of a trip happen when you are the most tired. So, true to suit, instead of just being able to go crash (at that point I had been in travel mode for 36 hours), I had to deal with the public shame of having my bag stand me up. As I stood at the baggage claim I had to watch all the other travelers as they were joyfully reunited with their luggage, while I slowly came to the realization that my bag had decided to ditch me in lieu of an extended European vacation. I’m pretty sure it took its own sweet time in a certain Parisian airport. So, feeling like an ug-o waiting for a blind date to not show, I gave up all hope and decided to leave the airport, but the customs agent had other thoughts on the matter. Apparently, he didn’t want to let me into the country because he believed that I look nothing like my passport photo…which was taken in February. I suppose I’ve lost a bit of weight, but I still don’t think it gave him the right to call his buddies over from all the other booths to look at my photo and then look at me and laugh, only to repeat the process multiple times. However, I think he was pretty embarrassed when I told him (in Armenian) that he was shaming himself by acting like an immature little boy. He promptly apologized and said that he didn’t think I could speak Armenian…I maintain that he just didn’t think.

I managed to get out of the airport and into the city around 10 pm, and then went to the only hostel in Yerevan and crashed. The next morning we had meetings all day at the office, so that was neat… The plus side to this was that all the volunteers were in Yerevan for the weekend, so I got to see my friends upon my return to the country, which made the transition back a little easier. But, eventually, we all said our goodbyes and I hopped on the train and went my own way…which seems to be what I do best.

When I got back to my village on Sunday (don’t worry, the airline got my bag back before I left the city…but I had to pay a 5000 dram fine since they lost it…oh business sense, what are you?). Anyways, when I got off the train in my village, there was a sizeable group of Armenians waiting for me at the station, which was odd, because usually it’s just my grandpa and my little brother. Apparently the people in my town had set up a commemorative slaughter for the memory of my grandmother. So, it felt pretty good to know that my village was there to support me. In fact, it was the first time that I really felt like the village had reached out to me to include me in the parameters of the village. Their normal standing operating procedure is to point out all the ways that I am different from them (aka every thing about me), and how those differences make me wrong (says scott, ‘thanks’).

The next day, I went back to work at the school, where I have been every day since. I only work at the schools in the mornings (about 20 hrs a week), but in the afternoons I teach myself Armenian, economics, and read. Soon I will begin my “secondary project”, which amounts to nothing less spectacular than an English club. But, right now I spend quite a bit of afternoon time helping my family get ready for winter. Because I am a man (I’m talking Y chromosome baby), I’m prohibited from helping with things like preserving or pickling, but I do get to hit things with an axe! My family recently had 6 cubic meters of wood delivered to their garden in log form. In case you were wondering, 6 cubic meters is the metric measurement for what we in the states call a “shit ton”. So, since my host dad works in another town, and my grandpa is not exactly able to lift an axe with much might, I’ve decided to help out with this. It gives me a bit of socially acceptable exercise, and after a day of school, it’s fairly cathartic to split things apart with brute force and a sharp object. But, today my progress in the quickly diminishing pile was halted when my American brawn became too much for the axe. I felt kind of like a jerk when the axe head broke off in a log. I mean, here I was destroying the family’s only tool that would help keep them warm in the approaching villainous winter. But my uncle came over and said it was no big deal, that they had another axe in the shed. I said something like oh that’s great. You know? Really meaning that’s great. I felt like less of a jerk. But then I thought to myself, if you’ve had two axes this whole time, why haven’t we both been doing this…whatever.

I think this Sunday I’m going to help my uncle dig a 70 meter irrigation ditch and lay the pipe in and then fill it back in. We started the planning for it before I took off for the states for the funeral, and we want to get it done before it starts getting cold. Plus, they just tore out all of the tomato and pepper plants that were refusing to grow in their garden, and now they have four new apple trees in their place, and they need the water. Again, with winter just around the corner, it is important for them to be able to firmly establish themselves in the earth before frost sets in. So, I suppose it can’t help to lay the pipe quickly.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The News Meets the Booze Meets the Snooze

Well I suppose it’s only fair that I admit right off the bat that I am having trouble finding something worthy of writing about. If I try to write about anything topical, odds are 100% (which aren’t really odds at all but rather a certainty…) that whatever it is that I have said has already been said at least three days ago, thereby making my comments stale and obsolete. So, I have tried to turn to my classic standby for blogging, which is to write about some new experience in my life. But alas, I have nothing. Well, that’s a lie. I’m sure that I have plenty to say on the subject of new cultural experiences, but at the moment (and please note that by “moment” I mean the past week, as I’ve been trying desperately to conjure up an idea worthy of extended pontification via blog post) I have very little. So I’m going to do my very best to talk on things both “topical” and cultural in this post, because let’s be honest, campaign season is always ripe for commentary, and Armenia is always sure to provide some interesting stories. So, if you don’t like one, just skim through until you find the other, I’m sure there’ll be something you like here. I mean let’s be honest, it’s me writing about me and/or my opinions, and I’m kick ass.

Topical is only an r away from paradise

John McCain selected Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, so that is what it is. She seems to be a good selection for the GOP, as she is someone who supports all the things a grand ol’ member of the grand ol’ party should, a.k.a. pro-life, the 2nd amendment, “stickin’ to those good ol’ fashioned values”, maintaining the nuclear family at all costs, and making Marker’s Mark the drink of choice at the Republican National Convention for the second convention in a row. She is from small town Alaska, and that seems to jive well with McCain’s stance on drilling domestically, and her pro-life position seems to jive well with the dying supreme court justices. Also, I think it’s necessary to have at least one person on the ticket that is in support of living, as Johnny is only breaths away from epitomizing the opposite. I guess it seems a bit nerve racking casting a vote for the oldest person to run for a first term in the history of the U. S. of A….oh did I mention he has skin cancer…I guess I can’t help but wonder who a vote for McCain is for? Why doesn’t Palin just go ahead and run? Speaking of pro-life, isn’t it neat that she gets to demonstrate her stance on the subject with her own daughter? Way to go Levi, you really married into the right family…oh, what’s that? You’re not married…wow, now I feel silly. What’s that? You’re the first baby daddy to be on a campaign trail? Well, I suppose that’s the only thing this campaign season is missing…on both sides.

Obama performed as usual, stirring up excitement in a crowd drunk on idealism. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, ideals are what drive a nation to move forward, to persevere. But, the thing about an ideal is often times it is the moon you shoot for only to land among the stars. Cliché? Sure. But the point is that the ideal is something that you aim for, only to not achieve it and end up somewhere else unanticipated. Now, saying that you will land among the stars is a positive way to spin the scenario, but I implore you to remember that a star is nothing but a ball of searing hot, burning gas, and for the life of me, I can’t remember NASA ever intentionally making a mission to land on a star. I hear the sun is hot this time of year. I guess what I’m getting at, is that this whole campaign would be easier to get behind if it had some sort of concrete element behind it. Also, there is another major player in the realm of international politics who is known for being an idealist: Vladimir Putin, and let’s be honest, if he could dress every citizen of mother Russia in the stylish gray and red uniforms that were only too popular 17 years ago, I’m sure he would. I hear his favorite song is track one off The Beatles White Album.

Basically what it boils down to is that this campaign season has done nothing but reaffirm my decision to be a bleeding independent. Less pedantically (and let’s be honest, that was not pedantic in the least, but I feel like every political commentary, shotty as it may be, needs to use the word pedantically, and that was as good a place as any), I think that a bipartisan system has no opportunity to be anything but silly when both parties are inherently silly. Whoa. Calm down. Take a breath you GOP’s and Donkeys, I am not saying that the candidates are silly. In fact, I believe just the opposite. I think that the U.S. of A. is very lucky this election season, in that both tickets have an incredible amount of integrity running. Has McCain voted with Bush 90% of the time? Yes, but the difference is he can spell his own name. Evidence, he doesn’t have to go by his initial. Has Obama had a brief and unrevealing political career? Yes, but given the situation in Washington right now, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Is that sad, maybe, but it might be true also. That said, I know who I’m voting for, and depending on who you are, I will give you a hard time about who you are voting for just to get your goat. So if I’ve been pro Obama with you, it’s probably because I know you’re voting for Palin. And if I’ve been pro McCain, it’s probably because I know you like to plan holidays to the sun. I like to go into the booth knowing that no one knows who I’m voting for. I’ve found this is the easiest way to avoid unwanted shankings upon exiting the booth.

Moving on to the cultural…

I had an interesting conversation with my grandfather the other evening. We were discussing the value of learning a language, and we came to the general consensus that the more languages you know, the richer you are. He maintains (and I think it’s right mostly…) that if you know a language, you know a people, and that is a very valuable thing. After he said that, I didn’t really know what to say. After all, that’s not exactly something that begs a response. So, I did what I do best here, which is to sit and say nothing. And as he watched me “think”, he expanded on the different languages he knows. He said that if he wants to speak Chinese, all he has to do is drink two bottles of vodka. He then sad that if he wants to speak Georgian, all he has to do is put an entire hot potato (note the spelling Quail) in his mouth. Then he went on to say that Armenian was the most beautiful language in the world. And I must admit, there is a certain beauty to it. But I’m not sure how it stacks up against Sanskrit. I’ve heard that sounds gorgeous…also, later in the conversation my grandpa threatened to cut the head off of anyone who threw rocks at me while I run. It’s nice to know someone’s got my back.

This past week was the fist week of school. September 1st marks the first day of school for the entire country of Armenia, and let me tell you, it was something. I remember waking up on my first day of work buzzing with an internal excitement that rivaled that of the 6 year old children going to school for their first day. I was finally going to see how these schools worked. I walked to school with my books packed up and my shoes tied tight (Billy Madison don’t sue me), not really knowing what to expect. And when I got to school and walked in the teachers’ lounge, I must say, I was glad I didn’t come with a closed mind. There on the table sat several bottles of cognac and champagne, accompanied with boxes of chocolate. Needless to say, I think if we had been teaching in the states we all would have lost our jobs within 5 minutes. But we aren’t, and we didn’t. I must admit, I was a bit uncomfortable with the presence of booze in school, especially when it was the principal (remember, the principal is my pal, ah timeless spelling adages) who was “encouraging” me to take shots. But, after the first week (that’s right, so far there have been fresh bottles every day) I like to think of these things as teaching accessories. When in Rome I suppose…please don’t think that teachers get drunk at work. They merely take a few tasteful shots before/during the day…I don’t get it. Work is going well, however. Right now it’s slow, but I’m hoping things will pick up as I begin to plan my teacher training workshops for the entire teaching community. But, I don’t want to get into this too much, as I don’t really know too much about it yet. I promise I’ll fully explore every aspect of my work in a later post. As for now, I still need to experience.

This is the snooze
I debated heavily on whether or not to release this, as it makes the possibility to change it difficult. But, I’m pretty content with it for now. Also, I’d like to say shame on you for scrolling to the end if you have skipped the entire article just to read the big snooze. However, if you are here only after a patient reading of the above nonsense, congratulations, I suppose I owe you some sort of hair ribbon or maybe a stale hard candy prize next time I see you. Anyways…I’d like to announce the title of my book: Waking. What a let down, I know. Where are the bells and whistles? I don’t know. But, I put a lot of thought into it (no shit Sherlock) and I’d like to think that it highlights a nice little duality that the story works hard to expose, and probably does a poor job of it. So, as Hans Solo always said about the wookie sitting on a chair, “Chew on it.” Somebody punch me hard for that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Conrad Meets Paris, Patraeus, and CNN...OMG!!!

FORWARD: I realize that some of this stuff is now outdated… a bit, but I just got to a computer and didn’t feel like changing anything. So, deal with it. When it was written, it was topical, so now it’s just like a time machine.

Living abroad has its difficulties. I can’t precisely communicate my thoughts in this language yet, meaning, I can only communicate through approximations. I don’t have the immediate comfort and support of my close friends and family. My joys, like my disappointments, are things I must deal with in solitude. I now live in a place that only has running water for about two hours every two or three days (yeah, I get it, the implication here is that I probably smell, as showers and laundry are luxuries). And, I wasn’t home when one of my best friends died.

But, living abroad also has its benefits. Sure, you can insert things here like gaining a global perspective, understanding a new culture, or meeting different types of people, and you would be correct. These are all pluses, so to speak, of living abroad. But, thus far, the biggest benefit to living in a culture, more or less, completely dissimilar to my own, is a better understanding of my native culture. If you have read Joseph Conrad, my situation is vaguely similar. Joe wrote books that examined the British Empire (usually not too favorably). But, one of the reasons his insight was so significant, was that he was able to write about Britain from an outsider’s perspective, while everyone in Great Britain thought he was a grand ol’, tea lovin’, Brit. In reality, he was polish. (He took a new name when he moved to England so that he could blend in/get published, kind of like George Eliot pretending to be a man, or me pretending to be intelligent.)

However, unlike Joey, I am not pretending to be a U.S. citizen to gain readership and/or credibility (trust me, I was born and bred a freedom lover). And, unlike bro-seph, my intentions here are not to criticize the United States, although early November might afford me that opportunity, and I do in fact lightly critique certain aspects of the culture later…stay tuned America. But, like Jo-Co, I am privileged enough to have the unique experience of being both inside of and outside of the same culture simultaneously. Oh to live and breath a paradox…(don’t try to understand, it’s too deep, like an ocean trench, I get it because I’m intelligent and I’ll tell you that anytime you want (or don’t want) me to…like right now. I’m smart. And a paradox. A smart paradox? Maybe it’s a paradox that I am and I am smart…) More or less, this has been a classic Scott Moore circumlocution, but, to summarize, living overseas has given me an opportunity to see my culture in a new light, a light that I believe to be more focused, while at the same time, less filtered?

Although I have neither interactions with Americans or access to the internet where I live (the irony here is that this is published on the internet, but let’s not get hung up on that…we’ll just put it in our box of paradoxes (and subsequent rhymes) and forget about it until time brings about its decay…like nuclear waste in the American South West), I am still able to learn about my own culture simply by not being in it. At this point, I could begin to expound on grand conceptions of global communities and international humanity and blah blah blah. Go read Mitch Albom if you want to hear about that…and waste $15 on a book. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know that’s not the cut of my jig. Plus, we all know I’m not anywhere close to being one of the five people you’ll meet in heaven. At this point, I’m still crossing my fingers for an admissions ticket. But…I do want to touch on a few things on my mind about the good ol’ U.S. of A.

1—Paris says the Cold War is HOT!!!
Ok, so Paris Hilton didn’t really say that. In fact, she probably doesn’t even know what the Cold War was…or should I say IS. (Dramatic music should be playing in your minds right now. I’m thinking Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.) That’s right folks. Things with the Russians (or as Charlton Heston would call them, damn dirty apes…sorry Allison/Russia fans) are heating up. Here’s the way I see it:

—Fade in—
Georgia: Take off Russia. South Ossetia’s our turf.
Russia: Take off Georgia. Stalin designed this system…kind of, and it kicks ass and we’re keepin’ it.
Georgia: Whatever. We’ll just declare war.
Russia: Well, we won’t declare war, but we will bomb the hell out of you.
(IRONY BREAK!!! Russia doesn’t declare war, but does lots of damage to Georgia. Georgia does declare war, but just gets damaged. Hmm…)
USA: Go Georgia!
Russia: Ugh. These guys again. Go away USA.
E.U.: Go Georgia!
Russia: What is with these people?!
Georgia: G-funk step to this I dare ya!
Olympics: Hey, what’s going on back there? Do I have to pull this car over?
Georgia + Russia: Nothing mom…
USA: Hey Poland, you’re lookin’ good. How’s about lettin’ me put some missile defenses in your neighborhood
Poland: Hey yourself there cutie. Stop on by.
Russia: Whoa, whoa, whoa, I thought we were cool Poland.
Poland: Oh…uh, hey. See the thing is…
Russia: But what about Warsaw? And those summers on the Black Sea? Was that nothing to you?
Poland: I found a new man.
Russia: Whatever. Hey Syria. You wanna piss off my parents?
Syria: Hells yeah baby.
Georgia: Hey. Wait. This was supposed to be about me.
South Ossetia: Can’t you all just leave me alone?
Georgia + Russia: Who are you again?
USA: (Texan giggle)
Russia: What’s so funny?
USA: Now we get to finish what we started…but this time it’s nuclear baby.

Sound familiar? Just as soon as we seem to be making significant headway towards pulling out of an insane “finish what we started” mission in Iraq, we are once again, laying plans (or so it seems) to finish what we started. What, do we have a quota that constantly needs to be sated? I realize that they’re only missile “defense” systems, not actually aimed at anyone, just there for the protection of the heartland. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all about protecting the heartland. But still, this sends a message to a very scary, very smart, and very freedom-hating Putin (let’s be honest, he’s never going to not be in charge over in his neck of the woods). So let me be the first to overreact and welcome in the newest Hollywood blockbuster, Cold War Part Deux, tagline—This we finish what Sputnik started. Speaking of Iraq, that leads me to point deux.

2—War and Peace, together at last, Tolstoy please don’t sue me.
General Patraeus said something in an interview about leaving Iraq on CNN the other day (I do get CNN World Wide here, so take that for what it’s worth) that caught my attention. “Our biggest mission is to make things sustainable, and the easiest way for me to see how to do this is to follow advice given to me by General Casey, and ‘walk a mile in their shoes’.” Ok, so maybe he’s not a masterful rhetorician, but I take this to mean that as he is making efforts to withdraw from Iraq, he is at least trying to look at things, not as an American, but as an Iraqi citizen. By doing so, I believe he hopes to see problems that will face them (remember, it’s their country…), and in this way, preemptively strike them (nice right?) as a way to make the progress made thus far sustainable, not just set the scene for destruction in the vacuum created by the exodus of American troops (think balance of power disaster, Europe, post Dubaya Dubaya One).

And, like any rational person, I can’t think that this is a bad strategy. Way to go. But, go ahead and ask me, hey Scott, why is this seemingly mundane comment (and although heartfelt, it was mundane) so interesting to you? Well, I sure am glad you asked. You see, there are a few things that the Peace Corps stresses in every aspect of its operation, and perhaps the biggest point (and one spelled out by JFK himself in the original conception of the Peace Corps) is that all jobs undertaken by volunteers should be sustainable upon the departure of the volunteer. In other words, what good is done by someone who makes changes, if said changes can’t be maintained and independently progress on their own once the person leaves? But, the Peace Corps does this through what they call “grass roots efforts”, meaning that they work from the very bottom up. As for Iraq, it was pretty much a top down operation of shocking and awing the party in power out of power. And, what the hell, let’s throw in a little bit of statue toppling and spider-hole news breaks to kick it up a notch. I’m not saying one way is right, and one way is wrong. I’m not saying one way is good and the other way is bad. I just think it’s interesting that both methods have such similar end goals and dissimilar means…only in America, eh?

3—Putting the CNNicism back in the news where it belongs
So my final comment on what I see about American culture comes from my only source of direct exposure to American culture, CNN. I wish I had the technical savvy to make this whole section appear on a crawl bar or something, but I don’t, so use your imaginations. I was watching CNN the other morning while I ate my runny boiled eggs and bread breakfast and there were two things that I saw that I really feel describe America today. The first came in the form of a plug for a segment on party convention coverage. Now normally, I would love to paraphrase to put my own twist on things, but I feel that a direct quote is absurd enough. “You can count on CNN to bring you two full weeks of Olympic sized coverage of these conventions.” Please stop reading, go back, and read that quote again. Ok, welcome back. First let me say, THANK GOD. How could I ever hope to know what the hell is going on in the elections of the free world (I told you I was a freedom-lover) unless CNN was to cover the conventions with “Olympic sized coverage”. Really? Is this really what the media intends to spin our elections into? I, for one, am happy to know that the elections are no longer seen by mass media as political debate, commentary, and reform, but rather as a large scale sporting event. Sure the presidential election only happens once every four years, but can’t the similarities stop there? Nope, let’s make it into a mini-series, no, a made-for-tv-drama, no, a grand ol’ oprey show if you will…I swear, if they make me stay tuned to see who shot JR I’m going to freak out. I’m still waiting to see who shot JFK.

The second gripe I have with American culture, as reported on, and documented for all eternity, by CNN, ring master of afore mentioned circus spectacular, was a feature piece on ‘Barack Obama’s vice-presidential selection’. Naturally, I assumed that with a headline like that, the topic would be about Barack Obama’s vice-presidential selection. What the hell was I thinking? The entire thing was about Obama’s intention to announce his v.p. running mate, drum roll please, via text message. WHAT?! What the hell has this world come to where the candidates are now making major political announcements via text message? The next thing you know, we’ll see the state of the union address written out on the crawler in Time’s Square with nothing more than emoticons and crappy acronyms like: Sustainability, now, in Iraq makes me lmao…which means laugh my ass off…but more importantly, it’s an anagram for lamo. That’s right. I said it. Lamo. Shame on you CNN. Shame on you Barack. Shame on you text messaging. Shame on me for ranting.

Also, to go on the record, I have lost the hair bet…my new site is too hot for a natural sock hat in August.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Very Short Story

I'm moving tomorrow, and I'm not sure when my next post will come. I don't have internet access where I'm going, but I'm hoping that I'll still be able to get to a city at least once a week. As I am leaving my host family, friends, and everything I've come to know about Armenia, I thought it would be appropriate to write something on the value of saying goodbye. But, an essay or post just didn't cover it. So, I've decided to post a short story I've written on the subject. It is rare that I will post stories or poems that I write on the blog, so if you don't like this genre, I'm sorry. But, tough luck. It's all you get for now. In the famous words of my 92 year old grandmother, "Life's a bitch and then you die." I think that means deal with it. But, she's still kicking, so who knows. Anyways, here it is.
And My Dog

Sometimes the easiest way to say goodbye is when a person leaves too fast to actually say goodbye. Then, if you’re the type of person that would have to say, “I’m no good at goodbyes,” you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry if you never know what to say. You don’t have to worry if you know you always cry. You don’t have to worry if you don’t know whether to shake, hug, or something in between. You don’t even have to worry about saying goodbye only to realize that you’re going the same way a little longer. But I don’t think dogs know this.
My dog walks me to school every day. Every morning when I go through the gate, he is on my heel. And as we walk, he paws out a zig-zag pattern of excitement, a non-linear trail of sniffing here, peeing there, and charging after things that move—geese, cats, leaves, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes he will chase down other people walking on the street, but he’ll only do this if he knows I’m watching. He’ll draw a bead on them and then run them down with a chorus of snarls, barks, and snaps. And at some point, he’ll look back at me because he knows he is small; he’ll look back at me to say, “Did you see me being brave? I was brave right there.” And if no one had been hurt or offended, which is usually the case, I will continue walking, trying not to praise this kind of behavior, but secretly being proud of his devotion. And he will come tearing after me with his tongue hanging out and his tail beating furiously. And together we will continue on to school, where I will say goodbye at the door, and he will play outside my window until it’s time to go home.
Today I did not have school. Though I did leave on foot, and in the same direction, and at the same time; I did not have school. My dog did not know this until we stopped just short of the final hill. Here I would wait for the bus, and my dog would sniff the others’ bags on the ground as they waited patiently too, returning to me every so often for a pat down. When the bus finally arrived, I waited until my dog was away at a bag, and slipped into the bus, not knowing how to tell him, “This time I won’t be back.” When my dog returned to where I had once been, his nose hit the dirt and he sniffed his way to the door. I had made it to the back of the bus, and though his two front paws were on the bottom steps, his scanning eyes couldn’t see me through the crowd. The doors closed, the bus pulled away, and he sat in the dirt. And as I was thinking, “It was probably for the best,” my neighbor tapped me on the knee and pointed out the back window over my shoulder. And there was my dog, running as hard as he could, trying to keep up with the bus. And he did for a while. He ran hard for about three fourths of a kilometer. And I watched him. I watched him until the bus rounded a curve. And then he was gone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

In case you were wondering...

I would like to start this entry by formally dedicating it to my habitual readers. Many of you have expressed some interest in knowing what I do on a day-to-day basis, aside from going to class and teaching. Well, as I have neglected to discuss many of these smaller details of my life in Armenia thus far, I would like to take a moment (a.k.a. this entry) to spell out some of the more minute moments of my day that get me by.

1— Get born. Having a birthday party is a great way to pass an evening. I recently had one, and it worked out pretty well. About 15 Americans and 10 Armenians came into town to have what’s called a “khoravats”, or an open-flame barbeque. This type of cooking is pretty standard for any celebration, and my family and I decided it was best to just buck up and have one to celebrate my birth. Great idea, right? I thought so. Anyways, we cooked a bunch of chicken and prepped a bunch of veggie dishes and threw back a bunch of vodka. Although there were many epic moments, I believe the high point of the night was when 16 Americans around the dinner table around about midnight belted out the Start Spangled Banner.

2— Get twisted up. You all know that I have language class everyday for 3.5 hours. Although these are incredibly helpful/important, they have a tendency to get a tad bit tedious. 3.5 hours is a long time for anyone to sit still and be attentive, especially when there is a fabulous view of Snake Mountain (I’ve decided to stick with it…for irony’s sake) right outside the classroom window. So, when I’m not taking notes (98% of class time falls in this category), I have to think about things to keep me from going insane. One thing that has been fairly popular with, well, me, has been to come up with nonsensical tongue twisters in Armenian. I work pretty hard on these in my head, and then, when my teacher calls on me for an answer on whatever it is that she’s talking about, I proudly recite one (much to the pleasure of my classmates…or so I like to think), thereby successfully derailing class for at least ten minutes. I have decided to type the translations of my two favorites here. I would type them in Armenian, but I don’t have the right kind of keyboard, nor can any of you read Armenian…unless you can, and then you would know what they sound like. A: Spicy cat secretary
B: Accountant counts cow-leg soup
Awesome, right? Yeah, I’m mature, I get it.

3— Enter an obscure bet. Jay, a close friend of mine here, and I decided early on that the best thing to do would be to not get a haircut while in country. My last haircut was about the third week in May. Lest one of us should wimp out, or Peace Corps administration should intervene, “Hello August 2010.” It’s the return of the curls.

4—Keep track of obscure English phrases that many think are proper English. Although English classes begin in the third grade here, not many people really know English. (I guess when the Russians were in charge they didn’t take kindly to that kind of talk.) Anyways, even the kids learning English in school seem to know an amalgamation of interesting English phrases. For example, when I walk down the street, I am frequently greeted with a friendly “Hello Moto,” not as a joke, but in sincere belief that that is a proper greeting in the English language, which it is.

5— Influence small children. My family currently has extended relatives that have been staying with us for about two weeks now. The father is away on work, but the mother has three boys: 12, 11, and 2. Although the 12 and 11 year olds are entertaining to watch beat each other up, the 2 year old seems to be my main source of familial entertainment. I have recently taught him to growl like a bear every time he takes a bite of food. It’s pretty awesome. Also, we hunt flies in the house with matching fly swatters. This is entertaining and practical, as 5 pigs and a passel of chickens (and a nameless rooster) live directly below the house, and our 10 goats live in an adjacent pen.

6— Get a dog. My family has a dog named Alex, and he is stellar. I love the little bugger, and wish I could take him with me to my permanent site. But, as I am living in an apartment there, I cannot. So, I have to get all of my dog time in now. However, now is probably a good time to mention the Armenian outlook on dogs. I am the only one in the house who doesn’t kick the dog. This is not to say that they don’t like the dog. But it is to say that their outlook on animal treatment is different. It’s a tough life for Armenian canines. The result of this type of treatment is obedience, but not affection. Because I feed, pet, scratch, and play with the dog, the dog returns affection, and, as of late, protection. I don’t need protection, but Alex has taken it upon himself to walk me everywhere (kind of like Mary’s lamb). However, if he is the lamb to me, then he is the tyger (see William Blake’s “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”) to anyone near me. The result of this is that my host parents have started to tie him to the tree in an effort to prevent him from attacking neighbors, whom he believes intend to do me harm.

7— Get a deadline. After much reflection, I have decided that I need to give myself a deadline in order to ever finish my book. I intend to have a completed manuscript by Spring. As a method of holding myself accountable to this deadline, I have decided to make it publicly known. So, if I do not have a completed manuscript by Spring of 2009, feel free to mail me a brown paper sack of burning fecal matter. Or, if you happen to be in Armenia, just leave it on my doorstep, knock real loud, and run away. I made this resolution about a month ago, and since it’s implementation, I have been fairly productive. So, so far, so good. (60% of the words in the last sentence were identical.) I’m excited at the idea of finally getting it finished, but nervous about sending it off for review. But, stay tuned for an update on that.

If you have any suggestions for day-to-day activities, please leave them in the comments. Also, Allison, shoot me an email with your blog address so that I can find you. These computers won’t let me search.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Got Really High in Armenia

So, every single day since I have been in Armenia (with the exception of my site visit), when I wake up, I get dressed, eat my breakfast, pack my bag, and step across the threshold of my front door into the cool Armenian morning air. On most occasions (July seeming to be the overwhelming exception), I can still see my breath drift away from me in a relaxed, but confident fashion. And as I watch my breath slowly dissipate into the greater body of air that is the outdoors, my eyes have never been able to help but refocusing on the highest peak of the mountains that cradle my town in their nurturing lap. Every morning, this sight has dominated my vision, regardless of whether it is placed on a backdrop of sunshine, rain, fog, or mist, and every morning I have the same thought. What’s it like on the top?

Because I have a pretty good view of the mountain from my front stoop, I’ve had ample time to study the intricacies of the slopes, saddles, and ridgelines of this particular mountain. And, over time, I’ve been planning my own way up to the top, I say my own way, because people here are deathly afraid of snakes, and the mountain is where snakes are imagined to be. The result of this paranoia, is that much of the mountain illustrates the antithesis of trails.

[Side note on snakes: If the people of Armenia are asked, killer snakes inhabit almost every square foot (should this be in meters?) of land that is not inhabited by people, and the mountain consists of all of said land. In fact, there are so many snakes, that one is lucky to find a patch of ground to tread on that is not seething with venomous motion. What is more, is that these snakes are mad (think Fred Phelps in San Fran). So, even if you manage to pogo your way through the snake-knotted ground, the snakes themselves will actually get together in a meeting (similar to those town hall meetings you hear presidential candidates talk about every four years, you know, full of meaningful questions, little old women dying of something, coal mine workers coughing all over the place, and community leaders talking about some need for jobs) in order to devise a plan more devious/complicated/top secret/intricate than the Manhattan Project, that will result in the downfall of any bi-pedal intruder on their turf (just try and diagram that sentence grammar gurus). They will stalk you for days, only to wait until your most vulnerable moment, and then they’ll strike with a more deadly force than any Shock and Awe, and more surprise than any Tet Offensive. Then, after you’ve been injected with a serum that is a SARS-Anthrax-Polio combination by about a million snakes, the king snake (you know the one that was formed by the powers of five super snakes combining into one mega-tron snake) will unhinge his jaw and swallow you (yes, the entire body of a human) whole. If you have ever seen Anaconda or Python (and if you’ve only seen one, trust me, you’ve seen both, and if you’ve never seen either, know that I envy you) you have seen an example of this. Ahem. If an encyclopedia is asked, you will find that there are very few poisonous snakes in Armenia. And, the only venomous snakes in country live in arid, rocky terrain (a.k.a. the very definition of not where I am right now). But you must be asking, ‘Ok Scott, maybe there aren’t any venomous snakes in them there hills. But, there could still be a lot of snakes, right? And, if there are snakes, they could be pretty big, right? And even if they aren’t venomous, they could still be pretty dangerous, right?’ Well, for all of those curious cats, I have but one response: stay tuned for the report of the snakes encountered in field. Side note FIN]

Welcome back. I believe I left you with my description of the mountain from afar. To quickly recap, pretty steep, lots of bluffs, and a bunch of scrub oaks (those pesky low growing trees that are thicker than any grandmother’s mustache, and harder to get through than War and Peace written in Sanskrit). Now that were back on track…Last Saturday night, I decided that enough was enough. Tomorrow (that would be this past Sunday) was the day I was to make that there mountain my grandmother goat, that is to say, I was going to climb on top of it in order to gain a better perspective. As I was standing on the front step looking at the mountain, I decided it might be a good idea to mention my intentions to my host father, who was enjoying a cigarette with one of our neighbors. Upon hearing my plans, both men proceeded to insist (quite loudly) that I not go because of the killer snakes, whose bellies are at least three feet across (no joke that was the hand motion indication) that run rampant on the mountainside. I kindly thanked them for the warning, and got stubborn. Tomorrow was to be the day.

My buddy Sean (who lives in another training village) came into town to join me on the hike. Although I had decided to be fairly irresponsible about the planning of the hike (not having an actual, map planned route in mind and ignoring the warnings of killer jungle snakes that have taken more muscle growth enhancers than Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire combined…and have military science degrees), my instincts to never go hiking alone would not allow me to fly this one solo. Plus, every Maverick needs his Goose if he wants to do something as legendary as buzzing the tower. Like me, Sean is an Eagle Scout, plus, he spent a couple summers rangering down at Philmont. So, naturally, he made a great hiking companion. Plus, he is one of the better friends I have here.

When he got into town about 10 (a little later than I would have cared to started…but oh well), we topped off our water bottles, bought a Snickers each at the store, and headed for the mountain. Our route, as was determined very much on the fly, was varied for sure. We climbed the lower portions of the mountain by going up creek beds, still very much with water, as a means to cut through the thick brush. I mean, this stuff would have been challenging for a machete. However, after a while, our impatience convinced us to abandon the meandering creeks in favor of a more direct route. Though we were each only dawning flimsy t-shirts, we decided to brave the brush and start to head strait up the hill. Once we got used to being bombarded by the thorns, briars, and webs of branches, this plan was fairly agreeable. However, it was short lived. After about an hour, there were rock walls that we couldn’t seem to get around. At this point, we both looked at each other with the same stare. We had come too far to turn back, and there was no feasible way to go around. So, up we went. The rock wall was only about a 20 ft. (meters aren’t real) climb, but without equipment there were plenty of opportunities to second-guess. But, as I am here, writing this in the past tense, you can assume that we made it out just fine. Once on top, we found ourselves standing upon a vast alluvial fan (rocks that had taken it upon themselves to fall from there greater rock bluffs and slide down the side of a mountain, thereby creating a slope of loose top soil/gravel). Although the ground ahead of us was clear of brush and bluff alike, the grade was incredibly steep. So, we ascended, slowly but surely, sweating in the stern sun.

We could see our goal; only one more strip of scrub oaks (again, really…groan) lay between the final ridgeline and us. We pushed onward and upward. Once we hit the trees, some sort of deraignment had set in, not permitting us to even think about rest. Through the trees and up to the final ridge. At this point, we were Rocky in the midst of a montage. In fact, our monomania seemed to only be disrupted by the stiff wind that let us know that we were on the absolute top of the ridge. Gusts whipped up the far side of the mountain and over the ridge, hitting us with force enough to make our steps falter. In fact, the topsoil on the ridge was so thin because of the wind erosion that the rock was exposed in most places. Summited, we had nothing to do but sit, take in views, and slug away our Snickers each. A Snickers has never tasted so good. We stayed on top for a while, giving our legs a breather, and our eyes an even better breath of the view of Mt. Ararat, Mt. Aragats, and the shores of Lake Sevan, (do a wikipedia search because this post is running too long to tell about them) all in the same place. I got plenty of pictures, and as soon as I can find some decent bandwidth I will get them up online.

After a good rest, we began our descent. All in all, we were gone for about seven hours, hiked about 11 miles, and climbed roughly one mile higher into the sky. As for the field report on actual killer snakes that hate babies and kick dogs, we were able to document an empty set. So, you (as I) will have to keep holding your breath…so much for a mountain made of snakes. And here I was, hoping to be able to name that mother ‘Snake Mountain’. Oh well, another place, another time I suppose. I did manage to get quite a bit of sun, and am now the proud owner of an Armenian sunburn. But, by the time bedtime rolled around, I was only too ready to pass out.

Now, each morning that I wake up, I poke my head through my front door, and look up at that mountain, and I know. I know that I owned that mountain. That mountain (and its maybe snakes) are mine…and Sean’s too I suppose. Also, as my name for the mountain didn’t pan out, I’m taking suggestions. Leave them in the comments.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Still here, no worries

I suppose it has been quite some time since my last post. For this, I apologize. However, because of work related activity, I have not been near a computer with Internet access in a few weeks. But, I’m here now, and your fears of my death can be abandoned. If my memory serves me correctly, my last correspondence was pre-July 4th. So, I would like to wish all those Freedom Lovers out there a happy 4th. I trust that everyone celebrated with an appropriate amount of patriotism. In case you were worried about my American spirit while living overseas, please know that I too celebrated the 4th. The Peace Corps was kind enough to donate $200 to my village for the sole purpose of hosting a 4th of July celebration. While I am supposed to be learning and living another culture, part of my mission is to share my culture while I’m here. Naturally the 4th is a great time to do this. So, the few other trainees living in the village put our heads and energies together to host a killer party. We made American foods (deviled eggs, chips and salsa [no those don’t exist here], chocolate chip cookies, potato salad, etc.) and invited our families and fellow community members (who made even more Armenian foods). We had water balloon tosses and face painting. Despite our best efforts, there were still no fireworks, and for this reason, the 4th of July seemed to come and go for me. It was a bit weird. This is not my first 4th of July living overseas, but for some reason it is the first 4th of July where I felt incredibly disconnected.

This past week has been incredibly new, busy, and exciting for me. If you have been reading my blog for even a little while, you know that even though I have been informed of my permanent site location, quite a bit of mystery has surrounded it, as no one has been there, thus affording me no opportunity to learn about its ins-and-outs, so to speak. (Was that sentence grammatically correct?) However, I can now say that a bit of the dense fog that lay heavy on the identity of my future site has been lifted. I have spent the past week living in my new town on what is appropriately called a “Site Visit”. During this visit, my responsibilities included getting to know a.) my family, b.) my town, and c.) my work.
A.) My new family seems to be incredible. For the first four months of my life in my permanent site, I will be living in an apartment that houses grandpa, grandma, dad, mom, and boy (circa 2001). Two stories up, dad’s brother lives with his wife, and two boys (circa 2005 and 2007). I can say that I feel quite at home. Mom and dad met me in Yerevan and escorted me to the town. Within the first 3.47 seconds of arrival, their son was on my heels with a huge grin, which never left his face for the entirety of my stay. When we got to the apartment, the rest of the family was waiting to welcome me. I quickly learned that my new uncle is a history teacher at one of the schools in which I will be working. That’s great. After a brief introduction to each family member jockeying for position, I was sent into the family room and told to sit down on the couch. This is where I met grandpa. Grandpa is a man of few words, and an abundance of smiles. He was watching soccer, which he told me he was a big fan of. I watched soccer and read. I think grandpa and I are going to get along just fine.
B.) While my current town is mountainous, green, cool (that’s a temperature, not a judgment), and has occasional rain, my new town is flat, green, hot, and dusty dry. But, my family does have a garden within the city. There, they have about 6 apricot trees, a hedge of raspberries, tomatoes, beans, and other things that I’m sure I missed. They also have two cows, a bull, a bunch of chickens, and a little black pig. The pig is not quite as rambunctious as the piglets at my current home, but I still wouldn’t turn my back to it for too long. The town itself doesn’t have too much. There are anywhere between 6,000 people and 10,000 people depending on whom you ask. Despite this population, there is nothing in the way of recreation: no restaurants, bars, youth centers, leisure activities, Internet cafes, etc. So, it looks like I’m going to have to make friends quickly, even though no one in town speaks English. In a way, this is good. Such circumstances will help me build stronger Armenian language skills, as well as focus more attentively on my work.
C.) There are two schools in town, each of which housing grades 1-12. Each building has about 40 teachers. So, for all of you math wizzes out there, I will be working with about 80 teachers in an attempt to help construct new teaching methods and strategies. Currently, the country is going through a nation-wide teacher re-training. So, my schools are scheduled to attend the federally facilitated teacher training sessions in late August. So, I will be going to those almost immediately upon entry into my community. While this might seem to abandon any sort of gentle transition into my workplace, it will serve as a wonderful starting point for the teachers and me. I’m hoping that having this at the very beginning of my work with a new faculty will help create a mutual starting point for both parties concerned. However, there are an infinite number of differences between the current Armenian school system and where it seems to want to go. Now, throw cultural and language barriers into the mix and I’ve got a nice little challenge ahead of me. I know I am going to be busy, and I am excited about it.

My morale seems to be holding up just fine. I have made several wonderful friends in my fellow Peace Corps Trainees, and this helps. The truly tough part will come when we all go our separate ways, bound for our permanent sites. It seems odd that I am looking forward to and dreading the end of training On the one hand, I will be done with redundant and non-applicable meetings, but on the other, I will be leaving everything that I have come to know. My language learning is coming along quite nicely. I passed my midterm in a grand flourish of anticlimactic action. Now, I am continuing to plug away in a second half that seems remarkably similar to the first half. I miss baseball.

There are three generations of goats in my family’s goat pen, and when the oldest generation gets tired and lies down to sleep, the youngest ones climb on top of their backs to eat some of the lower hanging branches of trees and weeds normally out of reach.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mid-term Exam Tomorrow...

Much has happened over this past week, and I feel as though they can easily be summed up in three simple sections I have entitled: loneliness, marriage, and seemingly obscure holidays. Before I proceed, I feel as though I must provide the disclaimer that although I have begun by presenting some semblance of an organizational pattern, I still reserve the right to type in a tangential fashion. So, don’t think I have forgotten about a topic if I appear to stray off the given topic. Also, now I don’t have to pretend like transitions are important.

LONLINESS :-( [Everyone’s a sucker for an emoticon.]
As many of you know, and some of you don’t, the living arrangements I currently have are only temporary. The village in which I live is only to be my home throughout my training (language classes, cultural classes, and not developing strategies for not dying). Upon completion of my training (mid-August) I will be moving to my permanent assignment. From the moment each of my fellow volunteers accepted their invitations, the country director for Peace Corps has been working hard to finish up our final placements. Last week, the afternoon half of our large group training session was completely devoted to the announcement of our final placements. Allow me to build the suspense for those of you who are currently unimpressed, nonplussed, or otherwise apathetic. Because, like many of you, until I was told that this was a big event, I was unaware that I was supposed to be nervous/anxious/giddy like a schoolgirl.
Upon walking into the training center, we (the trainees that is) were greeted by a big map of Armenia taped off on the floor with masking tape. Each marz (Armenian for state or region) was sectioned off, and the whole thing was humorously denoted as “Not to Scale”…All morning the trainees and the staff were buzzing with excitement and energy. I was still trying to figure out what all the hubbub was. The afternoon was to run as such: everyone stands out in the lobby as each name is read off, marz by marz. As each marz was read, all of the trainees were to go stand in their new home on the LIFE SIZE MAP!!!!! Once there, they were to be greeted by volunteers who are currently serving there and were brought in for the day to tell all of their new best friends all about the grand old time they would all have together forever. Neat. That conversation was supposed to last for two hours. Let’s fast forward to the “Scott Moore” announcement.
Yeah, my name was called! And I’m the first one in my marz to be announced! Cool. Let me just hustle on over to my part of the map. Hey wait, where are the current volunteers to welcome my in their warm and cheery arms? Wait, why are you not calling anyone else’s name? Wait, which marz are you now saying? Wait, that’s not my marz. Um, excuse me, you forgot to name the other people in my marz. What’s that you say? I’m sorry, speak into my good ear. Oh, there aren’t any other volunteers going there? That’s ok…I suppose. I’ll just get to know the volunteers that are already there. What? Oh, there aren’t any of those there either? Wait, there’s never been any there? Cool…Ok then, I’ll just stand over here by myself for a while then
Yup, the rumors are true. Although I can’t tell you the name or location of my town, I can tell you that I’m the only one in my entire state…for two years. I go on a five-day site visit here pretty soon. So, stay tuned for updates on that. I’ll get more detailed information about my next host family and job as a teacher trainer.

MARRIAGE ;-) [Who doesn’t like a good wink?]
The burning question here (as I’m hoping you’re hoping) is: did Scott get so preemptively lonely that he went out and got hitched? No. But wouldn’t that have been dramatic? I’ll see what I can do by next post. But, my host mother’s nephew did get married. And let me tell you. If you want to have a good time, go to an Armenian wedding. I arrived late to the reception because we (the trainees, not the people) had been on a cultural journey to a place named Echimazeen. As you probably know, Armenia is renowned for being the first country to declare Christianity as its national religion. Ever since then, the country has served as the seat for the Armenian Orthodox Church. Makes sense, right? Anyways, Echimazeen is to the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church as the Vatican City is to the Catholic Church. And it was pretty impressive. I plan to go back in September when they are having a huge ceremony for the brewing of holy ointment that only happens once every seven years. (This has been an example of a tangent, but you loved it, don’t worry.)
Anyways, I believe we left off with me arriving to the wedding a bit late. When I walked in, everyone had already been there for some time, and most of the eating had taken place. However, they had saved a place at a table for me, with several plates full of food. More importantly, they had saved me two glasses, one for water, and a smaller one for shots. As with American ceremonies of such pomp, many toasts are given throughout the event. However, unlike American tradition, you don’t drink your drink unless a toast is being given…and if you’ll permit one more “however”. However, the sheer number of toasts seems damn near exponential in comparison, plus the only toasting drinks present are vodka and cognac. More or less, this fueled the best part of the wedding, which was traditional dancing. I know that earlier I boasted having learned how to dance, but I now know that I know nothing. It was incredible to say the least. I guess I have two more years to buff up my dancing skills.

SEEMINGLY OBSCURE HOLIDAYS :-D [I promise this will be the last emoticon ever.]
The day after the wedding was a national holiday, the name of which I still don’t know. However, I do know the rules of the holiday, and they are as follows. 1) Throw water on anyone you see. 2) Anyone is fair game if they are outside, regardless of age, sex, or socio-economic status. That’s it. According to a celibate priest (that’s an actual rank in the clergy hierarchy, not a judgment on my part), this holiday has its roots in the pagan times, and was melded together with a holiday celebrated by the church once the country adopted Christianity. But, because of time constraints, I didn’t get a great description of what the holiday now celebrates. And, 70 some years of Communism (school and government sanctioned atheism) in the country more or less purged most knowledge of religious culture from the majority of the communities in the nation. So, no one in my family could really explain it to me either.
But, I do know that there were armies of children roving the streets with and endless supply of water to douche passersby. So, my neighbor, a fellow trainee, armed up with water balloons and buckets and we took to the footbridge in an effort to defend our turf. I hung back about one hundred meters with my camera. The way I saw, if Josh didn’t make it, someone needed to tell his tale. So as he taunted the local ten year olds into a water battle on the bridge (at this point you should be thinking the Jets and the Sharks), I snapped photos. It was intense, and it ended with both of us running for, what at this point felt like, our lives. Fortunately we made it back to my house in time to avoid a thorough drenching. The important part is that we learned several valuable lessons on this day. Next year. Next year these children don’t stand a chance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Finer Things and Goats


Bari galust, faithful readers! Things are going pretty well here. It’s been raining almost everyday. So, our normally clear little river is neither clear nor little, but rather a bit milky with sediment brought down by runoff from the mountains, and swollen like an annoying blister—not enough to pop, but enough to be aware of. Anyways, from what I’ve been reading in e-mails from everyone back home, it pales in comparison to the rivers of Iowa. I think Dan Eigenberg said it best when he wrote the “Iowa seems to be trying its best to return to the sea”. If this is true, I do believe it will be the most ambitious thing that the state of Iowa (or any other land locked state for that matter) has attempted in, at least, the millennium. But, it sounds as if everyone has found a relatively high place to hide out from the rising tides.
I myself have been doing my best to maintain some semblance of normalcy in my life here. I must admit that it feels a bit weird to be this far along in life (which I realize isn’t that far, but stay with me on this), and still be waking up to a mother who insists on packing my lunch for the school day. If only I had a pair of red Reeboks to sport on my walk to school. Yeah I walk to school, got a problem with that? But, if a routine is determined by anything, it is determined by my morning rituals. Every other morning, I go running. I think the old men in the village have started a club to watch the “amerikatsi” cross the bridge at an unusual pace, because every time I go across the bridge in the village “center”, there are always a bunch of old men who are standing with no other intention than to stare. But, as soon as I say good morning, they grow more talkative than a hen house (I’m allowed to use that analogy because we have a hen house, and it’s chatty). I think they take bets on what I now know how to say, because they seem to get a kick out of testing my knowledge as I run past them. I can’t help but think that I am disappointing them so far. However, I think I’ve gained a certain amount of street cred, because today, two of the village boys (circa 1996) were standing at my gate, wanting to go running with me. That’s right, I’m in good with the locals, and may have unintentionally started a running club. However, after observing their performance (although enthusiastic), my suspicions about aerobic exercise not being a part of their culture were confirmed. On the other hand, I recently learned what is part of their culture.
Who here has read Lord of the Flies by Sir William Golding? Who here remembers what the “Lord of the Flies” was? Three nights ago, two friends of mine were invited to a cookout, and guess what greeted them at the gate. Mounted on a large metal pike was a goat fresh goat head. I’ll give you about 10 seconds to figure out where the goat was. I, myself, am jealous, because I have not yet gotten to see this cultural gem. However, I have come close. Yesterday, it was raining pretty hard, and I had been sitting inside reading. All of a sudden, my host dad is calling me to come outside quick. So, fast action Scott grabbed his jacket and went outside. What was discovered will forever be remembered. My host dad grabbed my shoulders and walked me over to the fence and pointed in the neighbor’s yard. There, in the midst of a, now, gentle summer shower, hanging from a tree was a goat, strung up by one hoof. This goat, as it hung, was the most remarkable goat I have ever seen. I guess, if we are to continue the literary analogies, while the afore mentioned goat could be considered the Lord of the Flies, this goat would be known as the Headless Horseman. Although I sincerely doubt that this goat will ever be riding a horse. Let’s go ahead and get out the To Do List and check off “Observe a headless goat mass hanging from a tree”. Great.
On a lighter side, a few of my friends from another village came to visit me this weekend. That was great because I got to play tour guide to my town. I took them on a hike in the mountains with three stops: two churches and one castle ruin. I got some pretty phenomenal pictures, and will try to put some on the site when I get a chance to shrink them down a bit. But, for now, you will just have to use your imaginations (which are probably full of goat blood right about now). Life is good, on the whole. And, as language class progresses, I feel less and less like Helen Keller every day. My one great disappointment is that I still have yet to ride a donkey. But, the way I see it, two years is a long time, and I am determined. Feel free to drop a comment.
Much love.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cultural Differences, Every Step of the Way


Well, the rumors are true. I’ve been to dance class, and can now proudly inform you that I can perform two—that’s right, two—Armenian dances. Who’s jealous? If you aren’t, you should be. Dancing over here is pretty important to large social events. However, you cannot simply dance as we do in America, a.k.a. get out there and shake it. Here, physical contact is not emphasized during dancing. In fact, people don’t even face each other. Normally they dance side by side, with pinkies locked, often in a circular pattern or line formation. Regardless, dancing is still pretty fun, especially if you’re that awkward foreigner in the middle of well seasoned dancers…not that I know what that would feel like. I must admit, though, that after dancing for thirty minutes or so in class, I was pretty tired. One of the fundamental concepts (or so it seemed to me) of Armenian dance is that the feet should be off the ground as frequently as possible, and when they are on the ground, they should be light. Needless to say, dancing can be physically taxing at times. But, it felt good to exercise a bit I suppose, which is something that is not heavily emphasized in Armenia. But, it really reminded me of how little I’ve been doing in the ways of activity (beyond walking everywhere). So…(yeah it’s a weak transition, but you’ll just have to deal with shotty segues at this point)
I woke up an hour earlier than usual and strapped on my running shoes. Well, I suppose I woke up two hours earlier than usual thanks to the rooster that lives beneath my bed, but that’s neither here nor there. I’ve been dying to go for a run, but as afore mentioned, exercise is not a concept present in Armenia. Sure, they have gyms in larger towns/cities, but I don’t live in said location(s). So, running in public, as I was informed by my trainers (academic, not athletic), is an activity that is sure to draw stares, or at the very least, gossip among the huddles of corner-talking men and women. But, I was dying. I haven’t had as much energy lately, and I attributed this to the lack of exercise I have been getting (or not getting) in Armenia. So I decided to be bold. The way I saw it, I have been living in my village for about two weeks now, and everyone here either knows me, or knows about me. Let’s be honest, I don’t exactly blend in…yet. I formulated a plan that, in my mind, was sure to smooth things over. I would leave my headphones at home in order to hear people if they spoke to me, and I would make a conscious effort to say hello/good morning to ever person I passed on the street (which is customary anyways—think small town mid-west). I figured that if I did this, even if my actions looked a bit weird, I could soften them through brief moments of interpersonal communication. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like to get interpersonal every now and then? Right?
Well, for the cynics in the crowd who are waiting to hear me drop the “boy did that plan fail miserably” bomb, I’m sorry to inform you that your sinister outlook will only be partially sated. On the whole, my plan was successful. Although most people I passed gawked at me with an expression that seemed to beg, “where are you running to, and why are you running”, their tumult of confused emotions was calmed when I greeted them in passing. However, for about 20% of the people I passed, my Armenian greeting only seemed to be fertilizer to their growing seeds of bewilderment. Now, not only was some crazy American running to an undisclosed destination for an unknown purpose, but he was greeting them in their language. Weird, I know. But, I felt great after my run, so that’s good. I’m hoping that in time this will become more normal for all parties involved. But as for now, I suppose I have to be content having gorgeous morning runs along the river that tumbles through pastures and over stones in our picturesque mountains. Darn. Speaking of exercise…
The other night, I had a great opportunity to exercise my current knowledge of Armenian party etiquette (yeah, the transitions just keep getting better). My neighbor’s son just got back from his two-year, mandatory service in the military. So, of course that means you have to slaughter an entire cow in your basement. No joke, no exaggeration. The day before the party my neighbor brought me over to his home and took me down in the basement to show me party preparations, and amid the cases and cases of vodka bottles (which I thought to be a bit excessive) and cartons of vegetables, were tidy little piles of cow, ripe and ready for cooking. I don’t eat beef, but I couldn’t help but think that this was cool. Anyways, the party was out in the family’s garden, and there must have been 75 people there. I quickly realized that the number of bottles of vodka that were purchased for the party had not been purchased in excess. Needless to say, I did not even pretend to be able to keep up with anyone sitting at the elongated feasting table. But, despite the consumption of booze, I couldn’t shake a slight feeling of being at a middle school dance. Although men and women were both present at the party, there was a distinct table for men, and a distinct table for women. Not once during the night did either table interact with the one another, nor did the women’s table consume alcohol. Sorry women, you can’t do that in public. But, I think everyone had a good time.
The next morning I got up at 7 and went to a neighboring village for a fellow volunteer’s birthday. It was good to meet up for the birthday, as many of the volunteers I have become good friends with were there. But now, it’s back to school, six days a week…
I’m really digging life right now. There have been thunderstorms about every other night here, which makes for good sleeping. Now, if I can only find a recipe for rooster stew…

Much love